CHILDREN & SOCIAL WORK BILL, 2nd reading
Briefing by: Black Women’s Rape Action Project,
Global Women’s Strike, Legal Action for Women,
Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, Women Against Rape
We are five women’s organisations based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre founded on self-help. For years now we have been working with mothers whose children have been taken from their care or are under threat of being taken on varying grounds.
We are extremely concerned that the Children and Social Work Bill, which promotes adoption as the ‘gold standard’ and reflects the government’s determination to privatise child protection, will result in more children being unjustly taken from their biological families at great cost to their safety and welfare.
STATUTORY PROTECTIONS MUST REMAIN
Following objections from the Together for Children Coalition (which some of us are part of), ourselves and concerned individuals, a number of peers spoke out against the Bill in the House of Lords. They opposed the government arrogating to itself ‘draconian powers’ through regulations outside parliamentary scrutiny; removing ‘hard-won safeguards for very vulnerable children’; and allowing local authorities to ‘opt out’ of statutory child protection measures so that it could be outsourced and eventually ‘run for profit’. Led by Lord Ramsbotham, they voted to delete Clause 29 – the main provision which would have enabled this.
The Children’s social care: increasing capacity and diversity report published after a two-year delay by the Department for Education (DfE), provides clear evidence that the Bill’s opt out has nothing to do with ‘innovation’ as the government claims, but with lowering corporate liability.
The large, broad‐based outsourcing companies we spoke with said they were highly averse to reputational risk and would be unlikely to be early entrants to this market. In order to address this, government would need to be clear about the levels of responsibility, liability and accountability they would require from companies taking on the delivery of children’s services.
Children in difficulty will be put on the market. As we said in a letter to the Guardian (25 October):
The national child abuse inquiry was set up in response to a massive survivors’ movement to examine how and why local authorities and others failed to protect children.
Even before it started, the government wanted to exempt these institutions from public scrutiny… removing statutory protections from the most vulnerable – children in custody and in care. Given the history, this amounts to a rapists’ charter.
We urge you to oppose any attempt by the government to bring back the ‘opt out’ provisions.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Private companies are behind this Bill. Isabelle Trowler, chief social worker for children and families is among its chief promoters. She co-founded Morning Lane, a private company working with 25 local authorities. KPMG, which partners Morning Lane, has been awarded a £2m government contract. When questioned, Trowler dismissed it as ‘peanuts’. But the children’s social work budget is estimated at £6.5bn, and Credit Suisse and others are behind private companies like Frontline, which are already training social workers. The DfE has admitted that there were ‘errors’ in handling Trowler’s conflict of interest.
THE GOVERNMENT KNOWS THAT PRIVATISATION PUTS CHILDREN AT RISK
Companies like G4S, Serco and others can take on contracts to undertake child protection assessments and investigations, manage child protection plans, decide whether to initiate care proceedings, and determine where and with whom children should live. All these companies need to do is set up a not-for-profit subsidiary. Then the parent company can charge its subsidiary whatever it likes for the services it provides to the subsidiary, which is how a profit is made.
Earlier this year, G4S withdrew from the provision of children’s services. This followed the cancellation of its contract for managing Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire in 2015, and an undercover BBC investigation into its management of Medway Secure Training Centre in Rochester which exposed the mistreatment and abuse of children.
We have documented sexual and racist violence by guards against vulnerable women at Yarl’s Wood Detention and Removal Centre which is run by Serco.
Privatisation must be not only stopped but reversed.
UNWARRANTED FAMILY SEPARATION WILL RISE WITH THIS BILL
During the Lords debate, Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top raised that:
As of 31 March 2016, there were over 70,000 looked after children in England, which is the highest figure since 1985. If this does not tell us that we have to think again about what we are doing, I don’t know what will.
In our experience many children are removed without just cause. There are many reasons for this: the lifelong consequences of separating children from their biological primary carer (usually the mother, often a single mother) and their family environment (other parent, siblings, grandparents) are not given the weight they deserve; the importance of bonding is disregarded despite overwhelming evidence; mothers are judged harshly and denied financial and other support which would enable the family to stay together; domestic violence victims are blamed for ‘failing to protect their children’ rather than given help; and the risk of children suffering abuse in care is not considered despite the many scandals showing that it is widespread. Increasingly children are taken not because they suffer ‘harm’ but because their birth family – usually a low income and/or teenage mother, or a mother with learning difficulties – is accused of ‘neglect’, a term open to interpretation and prejudice. In our experience, many are families of colour, immigrant and/or disabled, who are discriminated against on that basis too. In fact, figures show that children of colour are disproportionately taken into care.
There is another major reason: pressure on social workers to remove children rather than help those families which could stay safely together. Further privatisation will increase that pressure as profits become the main motive to take children in care and have them adopted.
Despite the recent condemnation of religious institutions during the 40s, 50s and 60s forcing many thousands of teenage and single mothers to give up their children, politicians continue to recommend that children should be taken away from mothers and families whose only ‘crime’ is to be young and poor.
Many children who have been in care continue to be victimised as adults. Baroness Armstrong:
Six out of 10 mothers who had children sequentially removed were teenagers when they had the first child. Of these, 40% were in care, or had been looked after in the care system, during their own childhood.
END THIS POLICY OF DESTITUTION AND REMOVING CHILDREN
This Bill is being debated as the benefit cap is lowered. 116,000 families are threatened who may no longer be able to pay their rent, and 500,000 children could be affected. No one knows how many will then be taken into care or adopted as parents are accused of ‘neglect’ for no longer being able to keep a roof over their heads!
Baroness Armstrong pointed out:
“Children who are removed and placed in care are overwhelmingly from economically and socially deprived backgrounds . . . the role of family members – of grandparents, siblings and friendship networks in supporting children – is too often neither recognised nor supported effectively.”
In 2012, then Education Minister Michael Gove said:
” I firmly believe more children should be taken into care more quickly . . . I want social workers to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents, courts to be less indulgent of poor parents, and the care system to expand to deal with the consequences. ”
Gove is no longer in government, but this Bill indicates that other ministers have similar views and interests.
In 2000 the British Association of Social Workers (BASWA) warned that having targets for adoption would result in children not returning to their birth families. Evidence shows this is what has happened. The government has set performance targets for local authorities to increase the number of children adopted with the justification that adoption reduces the number of children drifting in long term care. However, an analysis of government statistics by Professor Andy Bilson, University of Central Lancashire, shows that over the last five years (2011-12 to 2015-16) 22,580 children were adopted, a 40% increase over the previous five-year period. Despite the extra children adopted, the number of children in care went up by 5% to 70,440. The rate of children leaving care to adoption varies across the country from 30.5% in Bolton to under 3% in Kensington and Chelsea. Professor Bilson’s analysis shows that the third of local authorities with the highest adoption rates over the last five years had the largest increases in children in care whilst in the third with the lowest rate of adoption the number of children in care actually fell. In other words, prioritising adoption results in more, not less, children taken into care.
We are not the only ones concerned with the lack of support for birth families and its effect on all involved in the adoption process. Amanda Boorman, who adopted a child and founded The Open Nest says:
Millions have been spent over the last few years on recruiting adopters . . . Every adoption is a result of loss. Even whipping them out when they are young does not make that fact go away . . . adopted people are often left with an uncomfortable legacy that nobody wants to hear about . . . Adopters have . . . been afforded a loud public voice . . . Adopted people and families who lose children have not been afforded the same privileges.
SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN MUST INCLUDE SUPPORT FOR MOTHERS AND FAMILIES
80% of women in the UK have children. We do our best to support and protect them, often in difficult circumstances and with little or no help. Many of us are struggling with benefit cuts and sanctions, zero hour contracts, cuts in wages and services, escalating rents . . . The cost of looking after a child in care is estimated at £35,000 a year. Yet, children who have been in care are four times more likely to attempt suicide and experience mental health difficulties. If that money was made available to support impoverished mothers and families, many fewer children would be taken into care.
The Bill should include provisions to support loving mothers and families who are struggling so children can be spared the tragedy and trauma of separation.